By:  N. Jeffrey Blankenship

Within the last few weeks, the Court of Appeals was confronted by the legal issue of choosing between two divorced joint custodians who had disagreed about having their minor children vaccinated.

Father and mother had originally agreed NOT to vaccinate for religious reasons. But father later relented, contending that “the use of aborted tissue is so far removed from the development of vaccines that his concerns no longer exist.”  

Mother strongly objected, based on “her firmly held religious convictions opposing the use of aborted fetal tissue in the manufacture and design of the vaccines.“

The family court agreed with the father, ordering vaccines to be administered on the ground that it was in the children’s best interest to be vaccinated because the children’s health and welfare outweighed the religious beliefs of one parent.

Analyzing the family court’s opinion, the court of appeals held that, when the two custodians cannot agree on vaccinations, they abdicate their parental roles and surrender the decision to the court. While acknowledging the significance of a parent’s constitutionally protected rights and liberties in raising children, the family court “has the inherent ability to break the tie,” i.e., to hold a hearing and resolve the issue according to the child’s best interest.

Relying on testimony from the children’s pediatrician and the CDC, the family court determined vaccinations to be in the children’s best interest because “the health and welfare of the children is [the] court’s priority even when balanced against the proclaimed religious beliefs of one parent.”

It is important to note that the court of Appeals did NOT rule that children must be vaccinated but, rather, only that under the circumstances of THAT CASE, the family court did not abuse its discretion in making that finding after holding a hearing and taking evidence. Nor was the vaccine at issue the COVID vaccine but there is no reason to believe that the reasoning of the family court and the court of appeals would not apply in that instance.

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